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cog in the wheel

Also, cog in the machine. One who holds a minor but necessary post in a large organization, as in Frank knew he was just a cog in the wheel of this giant corporation. This term alludes to the role of the mechanical cog, one of the teeth on a wheel or gear that, by engaging other teeth, transmits or receives motion. Used figuratively since about 1930, it sometimes is put as small cog in a large wheel, emphasizing a person's lack of importance.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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